Choreographer Hope Mohr has a touch of Parker Posey about her. Long-limbed, wiry and with a slightly nervous, tense energy, Mohr’s visage reveals a fierce internal focus. She paces the rehearsal room, listening to the spoken word of war veterans.
“I love the idea of what the military is,” says Carol Roye, one of the participating veterans.
“The Unsayable,” Mohr’s latest work — onstage at Z Space this week on a bill with another world premiere by Liz Gerring Dance Company — is a collaborative piece performed by war veterans and Hope Mohr Dance.
“One of the things that really distinguishes this process from other works that have been about war is that the veterans are not just source material, they are part of the artistic team,” Mohr says. “They are artistic collaborators.”
While classical dance forms shy away from the use of text and speech, the practice is not so foreign to the contemporary realm.
“I’ve always loved language and it’s not a new thing for me,” she says. “I’ve used it ever since I started choreographing. It’s part of who I am as an artist, loving language as well as movement.”
The veterans move alongside the dancers and tell their story in their own words. Movement often accompanies speech in a way that can be both literal and abstract.
“I think what’s been a really interesting tension in this project is the lively discussion among the group about how literal the physical storytelling should be,” Mohr says.
In rehearsal, the dancers and veterans handle the American flag, which gets hugged, shoved, folded, unfolded, draped and caped in the course of the piece. It is both physical and metaphorical, offering the common ground of American symbolism to the dancers, veterans and viewer.
Though Mohr guides the rehearsal and choreography, she is clear “The Unsayable” is not her work alone.
“What you see on stage is not just my vision; it very much represents the group journey,” Mohr says. “First and foremost, the piece is the result of a group emotional process, and second it’s a piece of choreography.”
Mohr says she enjoys collaborating with performers, and does so with discernment, attempting to balance the tension between her own drive as a choreographer and the necessities of allowing the group process to unfold.
“Sometimes what the group needs emotionally is one thing, and what I need choreographically is another,” Mohr says. “One of my priorities has been to honor the stories of the veteran. It challenges me to relinquish control over the creative process.”
This journey has also given Mohr a new take on what it means to be a part of the American military.
“There is no collective experience in the military. Everyone has a very different story,” she says.
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